“The story of the Travelers’ Aid work in Lewiston and Auburn is filled with as much romance, adventure and pathos as any collection of ‘best sellers’ for the year.”

That’s the way a writer in 1926 saw the organization’s achievements, and some of the tales could be the basis for exciting screenplays or a new television series. Any number of today’s top actresses would jump at the chance to portray Harriet Wright or Ellen George.

Those two women experienced incredible drama and humor every day in their volunteer work to assist railroad passengers at the Maine Central Railroad station at Bates Street, as well as the Main Street station, in Lewiston.

Their extraordinary impact is apparent in the annual reports they gave for their Travelers’ Aid service on behalf of the Twin Cities’ Women’s Christian Association, later to become the Young Women’s Christian Association.

Travelers’ Aid was a national effort started in the mid 1800s.

Harriet Wright detailed all 717 of her encounters with travelers at the L-A railway stations in 1913, the year it was launched locally. Her report was published on May 8, 1914, in the Lewiston Evening Journal.

In her own words, here are some of her experiences that she jotted down in a small notebook.

“An old lady, who was 77 years old and had been doing housework, wanted to get to Thorne’s Corner. The cab man was going to charge her $1.50. She said she could not pay that and I took her to the electric car waiting room, got a man to move her trunk, put her onto the car, and the whole trip cost her only 55 cents. She gave me a ‘God bless you.’”

Another entry said, “I see many young girls of 12 or 14 years out late at night; men with autos asking them to ride and persisting that they must go.”

She was asked to keep watch for a girl “who stayed at the Home one night and went away early in the morning. She didn’t seem right mentally. I found her and she asked me to get her a place to stay over night. I did.”

She continued, “Saw notice of a lost daughter, and thinking the strange-appearing girl whom I found in the station might be the girl, wrote to address given in Brockton, Mass.”

Most of the entries were one line, but the stories between the lines could have filled volumes. Some were trivial, but most told just enough to suggest the serious situations in which she became involved.

The report given in 1926 by Mrs. Ellen George, the Lewiston YWCA’s Travelers’ Aid secretary, showed much the same understated significance. Mrs. George told of meeting a young boy who could neither hear nor speak.

“The way he took my hand and the trusting look he bestowed on me convinced me that the work we do for travelers is well worthwhile. This little fellow was on his way to school in a distant city and had to change trains here. But he knew the Travelers’ Aid badge, and where he could find a friend who would understand his wordless language.”

She continued with another story that may have had life-saving implications.

“Jessie, a frail, pretty little girl about sixteen years old, arrived here late one night. She told us that she was looking for work and that a man she had met on the train said he would find her a job. He had her traveling bag and would meet her in a few minutes.

“When he appeared, it was obvious that he was not the ‘true friend’ Jessie thought him. We brought Jessie to the YWCA where she spent the night and next day her parents were notified of their daughter’s whereabouts. Later, this same man was committed to a penal institution for this and other offenses.”

Travelers’ Aid work is still carried on throughout the country, now mostly at large airports. There’s more formality and regulation to it these days, but no doubt the help given by these volunteers is every bit as important as that provided by Harriet Wright and Ellen George decades ago.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by email at [email protected]


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